According to Law 31/2003, 27/10, on conservation of wild fauna in zoos the existence of these places is justified by three main aims: education, research and conservation. But the reality is quite different, several studies and investigations prove that European zoos are not constituted by these three pillars. And in most of them the wellbeing of the animals living there is not a priority either because these centres are more interested in making a profit. In USA total revenue from visits to zoos and aquariums was over $5bn in 2016, therefore these places dedicated to leisure and entertainment are looking for the way to attract visitors in order to maximise profits (700 million people visit zoos each year worldwide). They advertise with slogans like “come and have fun at the zoo”, and continually offer new attractions with animals, such as direct interactions, which have unfortunately increased drastically in recent years.
Most zoos do not have an education programme, they don’t have properly trained staff, they don’t offer guided visits or educational talks, and neither do they devise detailed information panels - they don’t even have a classroom. On the contrary, they base their education on the shows of certain species, mostly exotic birds, sea lions, seals, cetaceans, etc. These shows are advertised as “educational”, but they don’t really contribute to the education of the audience, neither do they offer relevant data on the species, its behaviour or its habitat. Quite the opposite, they transmit the wrong message about captivity, making it seem normal, presenting the animals through their stunts and even showing the visitors that interactions between these animals and humans are normal and beneficial to them.
Since 2005 Barcelona zoo has taken part in 3 conservation projects.
Conservation should be detailed in a plan which indicates the participation of the zoo in official programmes of breeding in captivity, with conservationist goals. These goals are based on achieving a self-sufficient population which maintains at least 90% of the original genetic variability of the last 100 years or more to avoid inbreeding and the problems coming from it. Thus being able to reintroduce these animals in future reintroduction programmes. However, zoos carry out breeding programmes of a multitude of species that are not reintroduced later, they just feed the collections of other zoos in order to maintain genetic diversity.
In order to achieve real conservationist goals the population in captivity should be managed as a whole (even though they are spread out geographically) and under the supervision of the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria). However, the latest data from 2015 indicates that there are about 70 zoos in Spain and only 16 are members of the EAZA and just 3 belong to the WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The EAZA has a total of 383 members in 44 countries.
The truth is that most of the species that are housed in zoos are not endangered, they are just kept in captivity to be exhibited as part of a collection. Conversely, endangered species that can’t adapt to living in captivity are kept in zoos, such is the case of the Asian elephant. Numerous studies have shown that this species suffers greatly in zoos, they develop diseases which can kill them and because of all that they cannot reproduce, which means that the contribution to conservation is also zero.
As for research, despite the ruling which obliges zoos to conform to this goal, those which do carry out scientific studies are a minority. Of these studies, an even smaller percentage contribute some value to the animal world. The majority focus on the problem areas and behaviour of animals in captivity, which are not observed in the wild, and therefore cannot be used at a later date to help these species in the wild.
At the state level
Through InfoZOOS a coalition made up of the organisations ANDA, BORN FREE and FAADA, created to bring about effective change in the way wild animals are managed and treated in zoos.